LITTLETON, Colo. (CBS4) – Littleton Boulevard is a street that offers a living history lesson of its community.
“If you start walking up Littleton Boulevard and up the side streets, you’ll see these little businesses, these little gems kind of tucked away everywhere that were built by the people who lived here,” explained historical architect Rick Cronenberg.
Cronenberg is a Littleton resident who has spent years walking his streets. He’s intimate with 130 years of history tucked into a mile and a half.
“It represents every decade of architectural development in the city,” Cronenberg said, “starting from the 1880s all the way up to the present as you walk east up Littleton Boulevard.”
That walk makes it easy to see how architecture changed as materials changed.
But it also tells the story of why, explaining changes that came with the Cold War.
“In Littleton, they really did get launched into the Space Age,” said preservation consultant Diane Wray Tomasso. “Martin Marietta, at that time Glenn Curtis Airplane Company, came to town and began the manufacture of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“All of a sudden, what was a small farm town became a town full of researchers, scientists, white-collar workers who were at the highest level of military research and development.”
That modern thinking came with a desire for modern living.
“Everything became new,” Tomasso said. “People were living in modern homes. People were coming and looking at modern buildings.”
And it wasn’t just homes that changed. The arrival of automobiles changed how people shopped.
Downtown Littleton had a limited number of parking spots and that led to the creation of of shopping centers.
“Retailers were always first adopters because retailers were looking to attract buyers,” said Tomasso, “attract consumers to new products, to new ideas to buy more.”
And that created a different feeling along Littleton Boulevard as retailers included parking plans when they opened.
“As much as we might be nostalgic and enjoy the image of Littleton as an old fashioned farm town, the Littleton that we see today is really a much more direct product of what happened in those years immediately after World War II,” Tomasso said.
Boxed in on all sides, Littleton has no more room to grow so city planners are taking a closer look at the resources they already have.
“There has to be some really serious, considered decisions about how you build in-fill,” Tomasso said. “How you increase density and so forth while still maintaining the same qualities of life that attract to people to Littleton.”
“It’s more than just saving the buildings,” said Michael Massey with Historic Littleton. “It builds on economic assets and no one’s going to do anything unless there is some economic advantage to it.”
The timing may be perfect for the mid-20th Century buildings in Littleton. Liz Eaton is an interior designer with a passion for that architecture and she said it appeals to today’s younger generations.
“They’re just loving the smooth, sleek lines, the simplicity with just a pop of culture now and then,” she said. “That’s what mid-century did best.”
That means those buildings could have a life in the future.
“Cities evolve,” Cronenberg said. “There will always be a mix of different architecture and buildings. There’s nothing wrong with that.
“We need to allow growth to continue but we need to still recognize there was a past and that it’s important for the future generations to understand where Littleton came from.”
Eaton works with Historic Littleton to make sure those buildings have their future.
“If we lose our historic buildings, we lose our soul. And these are really Littleton’s soul here,” she said.
To learn more about the mid-century resources of Littleton Boulevard and other sites on this year’s Most Endangered Places list visit ColoradoPreservation.org.
Watch CBS4’s complete 2014 Colorado’s Most Endangered Places special.